'They only know mould': The mother shielding her children from squalid housing, with her daughter sleeping in a tent

Mum Sherri Smith is constantly throwing out belongings due to the mould infestation in her home, ITV News Political Correspondent Dan Hewitt reports

Seven-year-old Skyler sleeps in a tent on top of her bed. Her sleeping set up isn't a peculiar childhood request - she's trying to avoid the black mould covering her walls.

Skyler, her three siblings and her mum Sherri Smith are among the hundreds of people who've complained to ITV News about their squalid social housing. Over the past six weeks, we've witnessed dangerous living conditions and heard from tenants telling us those responsible don't listen to their complaints.

In Walthamstow, north-east London, Sherri shows us the thick black mould that has engulfed her home for eight years. Her housing association hasn't fully fixed the source of the problem, so it always comes back.

Inside Sherri's home which has been infested with mould for eight years

"We lose everything," Sherri says, pointing out the heap of mould-infested belongings she's been forced to throw out into the garden.

"My daughter's bed, the chest of drawers, the wardrobes, my laminate flooring that we just had to pull up in the hallway because of a leak in the bathroom."

Living in these unhealthy conditions is now "normal" for her kids, she complains.

Political Correspondent Dan Hewitt says despite years of problems, there has been no change in the housing complaints system:

"How sad is that? They've got the world in front of them and they only know mould and throwing away their stuff," she says.

Sherri has continuously reported the issue to her housing association, Clarion, who have washed the mould off ten times. They've never fully fixed the problem, so it always comes back.

Tenants not knowing how to escalate their complaints is an issue that has surfaced repeatedly during ITV News' housing investigation. They face a cumbersome, slow complaint system.

Skyler sleeps with a tent on top of her bed.

First, there's the Housing Ombudsman. Council and housing associations tenants aren't allowed to complain directly themselves - they must first go through a 'designated person' - an MP or a local councillor - who will lodge a complaint on their behalf.

For tenants in the private sector, there is no legal obligation on their landlord to even sign up to the Housing Ombudsman scheme. It's totally voluntary. Second, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman also deals with housing complaints.

Sherri shows us the heap of mould-infested belongings she has had to discard

Yet another body, the Regulator for Social Housing, can also be approached. However, they only deal with complaints where this is "serious detriment" to residents. In the whole of 2019/20, they investigated just 143 cases.

'I feel like I'm talking to a wall - we're the tenants we're the ones who are living here'

Fabio Freemantle is another tenant who has been stuck in a cycle of complaints about mould in his home - a small studio flat within a tower block.

He eventually took legal action against his landlord, Kensington and Chelsea Council, who made repairs and paid compensation.

But within a year the mould was back, and Fabio was back to square one.

"I feel like I'm talking to a wall - we're the tenants we're the ones who are living here, they're not living here," he told ITV News.

"We're the ones who have to feel safe, feel happy in their environment and surroundings."

Kensington and Chelsea Council says there have been cases of damp in the tower block following the removal of external cladding, and work has begun to resolve these issues.

They say they've been working with Fabio's solicitors to attempt to gain access to the property for some time, which he disputes.

Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council says “everyone deserves to live in a safe, healthy home."

Exclusive figures for ITV News by Citizens Advice shows a large rise in housing complaints between January and March this year, with 10,555 people needing help with disrepair or maintenance - a rise of 49% compared to the same period last year.

Skyler and her brother Kayden

Clarion told ITV News overcrowding is the major reason for the mould in Sherri's house and blames a housing crisis, caused by a lack of affordable homes to rent, for being unable to rehome the family .

“Over the last seven years we have completed ten mould washes at Ms Smith’s property. Ms Smith and her four children live in a two bedroom flat and the overcrowding is a major reason for the condensation and mould," it said.

Sherri's house is infested with black mould.

"The real issue here is the housing crisis. We want Ms Smith to move to a larger home, but due to the chronic shortage of affordable rented housing in London, this has not been possible. London urgently needs more affordable rented homes and we need more grant funding from national government to make it a reality.”

Whether the blame lies with national government, local authorities or housing associations, the fact remains - ITV News has heard from hundreds of people living in dangerous conditions.

Like Sherri, they're forced to make do, but feel powerless and desperate all the while.